Wednesday, May 28, 2008

South Africa's Rising Xenophobia

Xenophobia is a word that evokes negative reaction whenever it is applied to persons or countries. It is simply the display of unnecessary hatred for foreigners. It bespeaks inferiority complex and a deep feeling of insecurity on the part of those who exhibit such traits. It is insidious and has become increasingly unacceptable in a world that has virtually become a global village. Indeed, it smacks of philistinism, if not barbarism, to be possessed of such a demon.
Amazingly, South Africa is increasingly being associated with this tendency. What the country has displayed in the past few days is nothing short of maniacal violence against foreigners whose only known offence is that they are resident in the former apartheid enclave. Over the years, the death toll from the xenophobic violence that periodically erupts in the country has been rising. Nigerians in particular have been at the receiving end of this xenophobic brutality. However, what has happened in the past one week is nothing short of outright madness. It defies logic. Ultra-nationalist fools, or so they seem, have been on the rampage, killing and maiming fellow Africans for daring to seek a living in South Africa.
Agonisingly, the death toll from the senseless brutality, which seems to target nationals mainly from Zimbabwe and Nigeria, has been rising despite assurances by the South African government to check it. This tends to give the appearance of official complicity to this xenophobic frenzy. Most of the killings were reported to have taken place under the nose of the South African police. Why they could not act to stop the carnage leaves little to the imagination.
It is amazing that a country that benefited a great deal from the magnanimity of many African countries in its dark days under apartheid rule could become so hostile to fellow Africans. Yes, it may not be the official policy of South Africa to keep out foreigners. Still, it is difficult to understand why the Thabo Mbeki government seems unable to bring the madness under control. Are we to believe that the situation is beyond the control of the South African law-enforcement agencies?
Even if the victims of this rising wave of attack were illegally residing in South Africa, the right thing to do would have been to expel them, not kill them as though they were notorious felons. It is indeed ironical that South Africa which has invested heavily in other African countries, especially Nigeria, would turn out to be the grave yard of Nigerians who are trying to legitimately earn a living in that country. How so shameful! It portrays those behind this nonsense as economic buffoons.
The Nigerian government must make it clear to its South African counterpart that this unwarranted brutality against Nigerians resident in South Africa can no longer be tolerated. What if Nigerians pay back in kind to South Africans resident in Nigeria? Imagine the sort of war of attrition that this could spark. And the shame it would bring to the African continent! There is hardly any country that sacrificed as much as Nigeria did for the emancipation of South Africa from the stranglehold of apartheid. It is unjust, if not outright wicked, to treat Nigerians with the sort of hostility they get in South Africa today. Besides, where is the African spirit of brotherhood so clearly espoused in the charter of African Union. Or are South Africans a different kind of Africans? Or is it simply a case of violence, arising from jealousy. Whichever is the case, Thabo Mbeki must ensure that those behind it are decisively dealt with.

Israel at 60

MAY 14 marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel, and as should be expected on a diamond jubilee, the occasion was marked by celebrations across the country. However, whereas Israelis marked the day with huge fireworks, concerts and aerial displays, their neighbours, the Palestinians, mourned al-Nakba or "the Catastrophe" with solemn marches on the West Bank symbolising the dream of their people to return to their villages that are now effectively part of the state of Israel. Therein lies the irony and the tragedy of the independence anniversary - a day of celebration for one and a day of mourning for the other.

On May 14, 1948, three years after the end of World War II and the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust, Israel declared itself an independent state. For the Jews of the 20th century, the historic region of Palestine, the birthplace of Judaism and the site of the ancient Hebrew Kingdom of Israel, offered the most appropriate location for a predominantly Jewish state. In view of their recent and past history, did the Jews not deserve to have a home and state of their own? No one could dispute this although it raised further questions.

How could a Jewish state be implanted in what had become a predominantly Arab and Islamic territory? Was it right to displace the Palestinians who now occupied the territory for the benefit of the Jews? Did the Palestinians not have as much historic right to the land as the Jews? Surely, the Palestinians also did deserve a home and a state of their own. Unravelling these contradictory questions has been at the heart of the Middle East crisis since the state of Israel came into being in 1948.

Palestine became a British mandate territory after World War I in 1918. Throughout the period, the Zionist movement founded by Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist living in Austria, with a mandate to "match a people without a land with a land without a people," encouraged Jewish immigration to Palestine. Thus began a process that led to continuous clashes between Zionism and Palestinian Arab nationalism.

Following the Holocaust, the consensus favoured creating an independent Jewish state in Palestine, an idea that was anathema to Arabs in Palestine and elsewhere. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations passed Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. While the Jews accepted the resolution, the Arabs rejected it. On May 14, 1948, the British mandate was terminated and at midnight, Israel declared itself independent. The new state came under immediate attack from the Palestinian population and from the surrounding Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

The state of Israel has fought several wars with its neighbours since then. The Arab-Israeli war of 1948-1949 created a huge population of Palestinian refugees who fled Israel to camps established by the United Nations in neighbouring Arab countries. Subsequent wars, particularly the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War (or the Ramadan War as the Arabs call it) of 1973, increased the quantum of Palestinian refugees and worsened their situation. In spite of its losses, Israel was triumphant in all the wars, using the opportunity to seize huge expanse of territory, including the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights region of Syria, and all of Jerusalem.

The Middle East crisis has endured to this day. Although Israel has made tremendous advances in the last 60 years, especially in economic development, agriculture, and technological advancement worth celebrating, it is clear that its people will not know much peace until the Middle East crisis is resolved. The Camp David Accords facilitated by United States' President Jimmy Carter in 1979 established peace between Israel and Egypt, but left unresolved the larger issue of establishing a homeland for the Palestinians. There was also the issue of territories, which Israel had seized from its other neighbours.

Efforts to resolve the Palestinian issue began with the Oslo Accords of 1993. This eventually led to the granting of autonomy to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, this has fallen short of the two-state solution that was anticipated by the United Nations back in 1947. Six decades of war, pain and suffering could have been averted if Resolution 181 had been implemented as passed by the United Nations.

As Israel celebrates 60 years of independence and the Palestinians mourn the al-Nakba, it is clear that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can achieve their extreme positions. Negotiations require compromise. Third parties that intervene to make peace should also not be seen to be unnecessarily partisan. On this score, the United States, which can and has undoubtedly played a major role in the peace process, needs to do more to win the confidence of all the parties to the conflict. It is only then that its efforts to resolve the crisis can bear fruit. We urge all the parties and the international community to work out a compromise based on the two-state solution originally envisaged by the United Nations.

May 29: This road is paved with impatience

TOMORROW is another anniversary of the farce called Democracy Day in our dear country Nigeria. Justifiably, many of us don't even recognise it as democracy day, believing it was forced on us by you-all-know-who, whose trademark governing style was almost like a one-man show. Of course he is busy reaping the whirlwind he sowed while it all lasted. Do we need to say more? Anyway, happy anniversary for all it is worth. My only problem has been that there has been practically an absence of governance in the last one year the proverbial unwilling horse was forced to the river by the grandmaster. Everything appears so static one begins to wonder whether it was all worth the selection processes that characterized the general elections of April last year. The outcome has clearly put the nation at a crossroads. Should we continue to roll along with them or intensify our prayers for the messiah? Unfortunately that messiah will not come until the next three years - if at all - all things being equal.

Consider for a moment the process that threw up all the jokers who parade themselves as elected officials at all levels of governance. Should we expect more from a polity where campaigns are personality-based rather than issue-oriented? And we are complaining of lack of focus by our leaders. At least for those of them who are not being haunted by the ghost of illegitimacy of office (because many of them have been busy fighting opponents in the courts than have time to even get a focus for action). The lawmakers are not exempted. Some of the honourable men -and women - have behaved so dishonourably in just 12 months to warrant our continued support for their retention of the exalted seats they occupy.

Issues are important to a healthy debate during electioneering campaigns, to lead to the choice of a suitable candidate - and by extension a worthy, focused leader or representative. In contemporary global politics, Senator Barak Obama and Senator(Mrs) Hillary Clinton have taught us at the party level what it takes to get to an exalted office in the United States. It's been a long, hard-fought battle of wits and intellect to the extent that even when it was becoming obvious that one was having a good advantage to clinch the ticket, the other still pressed on for honours. John McCain of the Republican Party has had no less a tough ride to becoming his party's flag bearer. They all know already where they are taking Americans to whenever they have the privilege to lead the country. For us here, I doubt if it is a matter of political non-sophistication. We have indeed come a long way to be sophisticated enough to run a system that works with men of positive ambition, men with ideas.

Twelve months ago, so much was promised to a beleaguered nation. Twelve months after, so little had been delivered, if anything was delivered. All we get to hear are songs of rule of law. Yet the people are hungry just as they lack basic necessities of life. Those of our people who genuinely want to be gainfully employed even in private capacities are being denied opportunities to earn a living. Our leaders have stripped us naked in the market place, yet they are supposed to be covering us. A quick fix of electricity supply in the country would have gone a long way to fixing the economy in certain respects, like the numerous small scale enterprises to improve the people's living conditions. Up till today, we are yet to hear of any emergency declaration in the energy sector as we have been promised. So we have been sentenced to a regime of one-family-one-generating set regime. Importers of the machines are having a field day. Queues of human beings at petrol stations at night are always longer than motorists. Industries and service firms that cannot do without power supply are struggling to cope, running engines on fuel for more than 20 of the 24 hours in a day. The result: consumers pick up the bill and groan continuously or just shrug shoulders. Life goes on. Yet amid the dreary economic outlook, the nation's foreign reserves keep mounting.

Everyday we are told the economic indices are getting brighter but we are not seeing results. Whatever picture is painted of the energy sector is no different from most other sectors. For instance, I see no reason why students in higher institutions of learning should always go on forced holidays because their teachers are on warning strike. Why are we talking of falling standards everyday if this is what we have been saddled with in the name education. The complaint of the teachers has been a recurring one: the issue of the 49 sacked University of Ilorin teachers. Can't the president just do something? We are tired of hiding under the excuse that the matter is in court. Remember we cannot force the judges to rule when they are not ready and the case can last for the next 10 years! The health institutions remain "mere consulting clinics" if we care to know. The roads are still in terrible shapes in most places. The situation in the Niger Delta is scary as ever. Nigeria deserves a better image in the international community just as the people themselves deserve some peace of mind and improved living conditions. The summary is that the people have not benefited much from this administration - so far. In other words, the nation deserves a push - or is it a jumpstart - because it is not moving. At every level, except for one or two states, there is virtually an absence of governance especially at the federal level.

But I hear President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua is a listening leader, very humane. And that he is even an intellectual - in fact the very first graduate to run the affairs of the country if I heard the information right. Those qualities and more yet to be revealed make it all the more reason he should wake up from his perceived slumber, shake off all those hangers-on who are not likely to help him gather enough momentum to take off. Once he takes off, then we can talk of stabilising the craft. My worry really is whether or not he is being bogged down by this talk of illegitimacy since the Supreme Court has not finally dispensed with the appeals of his opponents. In any case, must that be a hindrance to governance? Or does the inactivity have to do with his health status? It won't be a bad idea if he lays bare his status and spare us the pain of having to keep up with speculations anytime he has to see his physicians which is normal anyway. After all, U.S presidential candidate John McCain took that bold decision to reveal his health records to inquisitive Americans some days ago to satisfy their curiosity. That is the way of a public official.

This brings us to the caliber of aides the president has surrounded himself with. While there is nothing wrong in the federal character principle, he can do himself the favour of selecting the very best a state has to offer, to the advantage of the nation. What we see, however, is that political considerations weigh heavily in the choice. If the exercise is done on merit, he would have a pool of men of vision who would get the train on track, move to time from all stations and get to another station on time. He takes the credit for that. However, that is not the case at present. There are some passengers in the team already whom he should not hesitate to offload. We cannot dictate to him because he knows them himself.

The only good thing about this May 29 is that it has afforded the country another opportunity to reassess governance - beyond the volumes of congratulatory adverts in print and electronic media. The people are not deceived. So far, there is nothing to cheer about. The challenges are enormous and the road is paved with impatience.

South Africa: Is this what we deserve?

I LIVED in South Africa for two years. I was a research and post-doctoral fellow at the University of Cape Town. I was fortunate to be in South Africa at that moment and also in that university. This is because that was a period in which there was an intellectual battle over the soul and direction of the South African project through the nature of knowledge production and consumption. The University of Cape Town is an excellent university with the best knowledge infrastructure on the continent.

But the university at that point was the hotbed of the struggle to restructure knowledge production in South Africa. Mahmood Mamdani, a Uganda scholar (now at Columbia University) led the struggle to change the curriculum on Africa in the university from apartheid based, to a post-apartheid Africa focused one. Mamdani's close allies and associates including the late C.S.L Chachage, a professor of sociology (from Tanzania) joined the fray in the battle. But we lost the battle; South Africa was unprepared for change. In the absence of change, apartheid will assume another form and shape; black on black violence will deepen; and the psychology of domination will recreate itself. This is the whole talk about xenophobia in South Africa.

For any discerning mind, what is happening now in South Africa is predictable. I saw it coming, and I left South Africa when I did. I recall informing my students, "South Africa is a country on the edge; it may implode from within". Without reshaping the curriculum on Africa; without decolonising the minds of the people; without owning up and admitting the historical role played by other African countries in South Africa's liberation struggle, South Africans rarely know who they are and where they are coming from.

Beyond mere clich?s of the leadership of the ANC, and some cadres in the South African liberation movement, majority of South Africans especially the blacks do not see themselves as Africans. When they comment on Africa, they refer to "you people from Africa". The mindset created under apartheid is that Africa is a jungle, where people are beasts, hungry and hopeless. The mindset remains unchanged and South Africans especially blacks don't want to identify with this.

Coming from a history of denial and deprivation, South African blacks don't want to associate with those who have a semblance of their perceived former image; those who are deprived and hopeless. They therefore see themselves differently, and far better than other Africans. They often tend to compare themselves with Europeans and Americans, with little or no African identity. This is the basis of the resentment, which they now call xenophobia.

Winnie Mandela is right when she laid the blame of the attack on fellow blacks from other African countries on the doorstep of the government given its failure to deliver on the long promises of political liberation; but this is only one part of the story, not the full story. Poverty and affluence live side by side in South Africa. Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the World that I have ever seen. What I call "Mainland" Cape Town is far better than the city of Paris or London. But that is how far it goes.

On the other side of 'mainland' Cape Town is "cape town the ghetto"- these are the townships. "Cape Town the ghetto' is worse than any slum I have ever seen in my life. I saw about five families all with children living in a single room. People sleep under the bed, in the corridor, kitchen etc. It is the most wicked and inhuman condition any human soul can live in. It is worse than Mushin, Ajegunle or any other slum in Nigeria. Political liberation has done nothing to change their lives.

The media manipulation in South Africa is to heap the blame of the condition of the poor South African blacks on foreigners mainly blacks from other African countries. They are depicted as job snatchers, criminals, drug pushers, crooks, etc. They are basically criminalised. Every non-South African black is seen as a job migrant, who has come to deny job to a Black South African. The stage was set for a conflagration. There were cases in which people were thrown off the moving train and killed. The media and the government call it xenophobia; but I call criminality. Criminality was tolerated and inadvertently promoted to deflect the condition of the country, and explain off its inadequacies.

Mahmood Mamdani was fond of saying that South Africa is a poor country. Many South Africans detest it. His argument is that there is a tiny minority that is very rich, and affluent, while the majority of the people live in abject poverty unparallelled in any other African country. If the wealth of the nation is aggregated, their living standard will fall, and South Africa may not be better than many other African countries. The result of the warning signal being flagged by Mamdani is what is unfolding in South Africa today.

The structural dimension to the attack on people from other African countries by South African blacks is in two directions. First, the knowledge system is trapped in the legacies of apartheid, and as such black South Africans hardly appreciate the richness of African history and culture, hence the need to have changed mindset towards their fellow Africans. The immediate step every African country took after decolonisation was to reshape the curriculum and rewrite their history. This in some cases involved importing scholars from other African countries to assist in the project. This was never to happen in South Africa. The effect is that the apartheid social construction of Africa and black identity is what still resonates in the minds of many South African blacks. Unfortunately, people who volunteered to help South Africa achieve transformation in the educational sector never got the kind of political support needed from the South African political leadership including the ANC.

The second structural dimension to the attack on fellow black Africans is the orgy of self-denial which South Africa's political leadership and the ANC are engaged in. Hardly is the correct story of the liberation struggle told publicly to South African citizens. What is often told is a story of self-victory. The role played by other African countries is hardly mentioned and South African middle class elite (including the media) are fond of saying, "we do not owe other African countries anything". Of course, they do.

I recall that when Julius Nyerere died (I was in South Africa then), he was depicted in the media in a very negative sense. Headlines like the "tyrant is gone" replete media stories on him. This is highly unfortunate. Julius Nyerere was one of the most steadfast leaders on South Africa's liberation struggle - committed his country's scarce resources, diplomatic strength and military support for the ANC. Nyerere was not to be celebrated but vilified. This is the one of the gains of self-denial.

Nigeria was one of the frontline states and participated actively in South Africa's liberation struggle. Our resources, foreign policy, diplomatic strength and entire citizens commitment were put behind our South African brothers/sisters. I recall as a university undergraduate, I contributed money and participated in anti-apartheid campus movements. Our soul was with our South African brethren, is this our reward for supporting South Africa's liberation?

Today, South Africa is benefiting more than any other African country in the African integration project. South African companies (like MTN) are abroad in many African countries making super profit, but South Africans are attacking the citizens of those countries in South Africa. There is no recorded case of either a South African citizen or company being maltreated in any other African country. South Africa must of necessity reciprocate the gesture and good will of other African countries, even if it chooses to tell the story of the anti-apartheid struggle differently.

The South African government must act and act fast in ensuring that other African citizens are not molested and attacked in South Africa. The current attacks are definitely unacceptable and condemnable. Mbeki's African renaissance should not be about his people killing other African citizens; Pan-Africanism will not stand in the face of the current onslaught on other Africans. Mbeki, Zuma and other leaders of

Oyinlola, PDP and Lagos State

THE Governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, betrayed the sorry state of affairs at the highest level of governance in Nigeria in his recent media interview. Among other jejune and ill-conceived arguments that he offered, he stated that "it is the aspiration of PDP to bring into our fold, Lagos State, as it has remained the only state in the whole of the South-West geo-political zone that is still outside the ruling party. We wouldn't want them to miss out on the development efforts that are derivable from the centre. Maybe, they could hold this long because of the revenue base."

Despite his limitation, it is surprising that Oyinlola could not see the contradiction in his ill-wish for Lagos regarding his so-called "development effort". This is what the Yoruba would call "da bi mo ti da" (literally, "become what I am"), indicating a wish by a lowly person that those better placed than him or her drop to his or her level. Those of us in Osun State who have lived under the misrule of the Oyinlola and the PDP and the absolute lack of vision displayed by the man and his colleagues in the other states of Western Nigeria would, of course, not wish that the people of Lagos State, the only state standing in the region today, degenerate to the level of the other PDP states in the region.

Pray, what "development effort" has the retired soldier made in Osun State that can be recommended to Lagos State? The devastation that he wrought while he was a military administrator of Lagos State remains fresh in the people's mind. Should Lagos State suffer the fate of other PDP states in Yorubaland, then the proud Yoruba people, who have the legacy of the good public administration from the onset of self-rule in the 1950s, should give up on the little window open to them to recover their commonwealth from the marauding band masquerading as administrators in both the region and the centre. Is it the deterioration in public service delivery that the people of Oyo State have witnessed under the PDP government - particularly under Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, the ex-policeman who has brought all that is vile and condemnable in the Force to bear in his "administration" of a once-showpiece state - that would be the envy of Lagosians?

Is it the obscene personalisation of power and morbid self-aggrandisement that mistakes itself for modern governance in Ogun State, where the governor displays more billboards of his smiling self than actual projects that the Lagosians would pray for? Is it the fumbling incompetence in Ekiti State or the obstinate maladministration in Ondo State - and the electoral robbery in both Ekiti and Ondo States? Or the absolute lack of vision, the gaping incompetence of, and electoral fraud perpetrated by, the retired soldier in Osun State?

If we even go beyond the region, only a man who has not lived in Nigeria since 1999 or read and heard about the country since then would recommend PDP's "development efforts" to any serious country, state or people. Under Obasanjo, the PDP took Nigeria and tried to squeeze her dry. Since the crude oil, the nation's cash-cow, refused to dry up and with its price rising, the band of rogues in the party went to town. In eight years, Obasanjo's PDP killed dreams, ended hope and turned a once virile nation that was full of aspirations for a better future at the close of the murderous era of General Sani Abacha, into a desolate country. The current probes going on in the PDP-controlled National Assembly and the several revelations since the termination of Obasanjo's regrettable rule are enough evidence of the devastation wrought on the country by the PDP.

Obasanjo's PDP successor has fared no better in terms of meeting the yearning of the people. While President Musa Yar'Adua attended to his private worries - which should have conditioned him, in the first place, to decline such an energy-sapping and very demanding job as that of the president of Africa's biggest democracy - millions of Nigerians go to bed hungry every day. If Yar'Adua has spent a whole year studying how to rescue Nigeria, what is he going to do in the remaining three years? On the whole, in nine years, the PDP has bastardised Nigeria's federalism, rebuffed every move to return the country to sanity and the legacy that was laid by the founding fathers in terms of the political organisation of the country and failed woefully to give hope to an abused people, Nigerians. This regrettable state of affairs is what Oyinlola wishes for Lagos State.

Said Oyinlola in the interview: "We want the entire South-West to have the opportunity of benefiting from the type of federalism we are practising. If we were to practise federalism to the letter, one wouldn't be much disturbed. But with the kind of federalism, where everything is at the centre in Abuja, it will not augur well for our people in the South West generally if we don't collectively work to derive the dividends of democracy for our people. That's why we are of the hope that we would work strenuously to bring Lagos into the PDP family."

Oyinlola's and the PDP's "federalism to the letter" or what he called their "kind of federalism" does not bode well for a comatose country, it does not augur well for the people of Western Nigeria and it is not good for a dynamic state like Lagos. It is a "federalism" that not only fails to promote good governance at the centre, it is a "federalism" that sabotages any area of the country where there is good governance and eventually ends the comparative good life enjoyed in such area of the country - like Western Nigeria. This is what the martial federalism that Oyinlola participated in and wishes for Lagos State did to Yorubaland. These characters have forced on us the tradition of low-quality public administration and under-performing public servants that they are used to. That is why today, an Alao-Akala can occupy the same Government House where the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Bola Ige once hosted the cream of our people.

Constance Momoh’s home truth

The recent statement credited to the President of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Justice Constance Momoh, that political leaders lack the political will to prosecute corrupt persons, cannot be faulted. She reportedly added that where such leaders had the will to prosecute, limitation of legal investigation, judicial capacity and financial resources hampered it.

Truly, there appears to be a conspiracy by a cabal of rich and influential politicians to capture the anti-graft structures and then frustrate the fight against corruption. Indeed, the battle seems to have completely lost its steam under the present administration.

A few years ago, the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, said each local government chairman in the Niger Delta region had no less than N200m in his private account. Today, nobody appears to be interested in investigating and prosecuting them. Besides, past state governors still walk about free in spite of allegations of massive looting of their state treasuries. Apart from the so-called plea bargain arranged for the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, no other prominent political leader has been conclusively tried by the government.

The subtle attempt by vested interests to cripple the EFCC, arguably the most effective anti-graft agency in the country, has not helped matters. There was a curious attempt to merge it with other anti-graft agencies. When that failed, the presidency surreptitiously removed the commission’s Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, under the guise of sending him on a course. That important institution has been run for many months without a substantive head. Before the Ribadu saga, the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, had created some technical obstacles that made it difficult to prosecute some ex-governors and other officials arraigned abroad on money laundering charges.

As part of the general lack of political will to prosecute the war, major operations and records of government are still shrouded in secrecy. Nigerians still cannot access the various Code of Conduct asset declaration forms submitted by government officials. Being able to access the form makes it possible for people to see the difference between what government officials submitted on assuming office and what they acquired while in office. The National Assembly has failed since 1999 to prescribe the mode of accessing the forms as stated in the Third Schedule, Part One (3c) of the 1999 Constitution.

The state apparatus for fighting graft seems to have been completely captured and pocketed by corrupt politicians. Many of the corrupt officials assume power not to serve but to siphon public funds. Some are installed by ex-leaders who want their sins in office covered up. This, perhaps, explains why the National Assembly is dragging its feet over the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill.

In other nations that are serious about fighting graft, both the government and the people collaborate to weed out corrupt officials. China has executed or jailed some corrupt public officials in the recent past. Last month, for instance, a court in the Chinese city of Tianjin sentenced the former Communist Party chief in Shanghai, Chen Liangyu, to 18 years imprisonment for taking bribes and abusing his position. He was accused of misusing a multi-million dollar pension fund.

In the United Kingdom, a demand was made under that country’s Freedom of Information Act for a detailed receipt-by-receipt breakdown of expenses made by 14 Members of Parliament and former MPs including the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, from their additional costs allowances. This allowance empowers MPs, to claim up to £23,000 a year for maintaining a second residence, normally in their constituency. The MPs refused to accede to this request. The House of Commons Commission went to the High Court after the Information Tribunal had ordered the MPs to give the breakdown.

Penultimate week, the court ruled against the MPs and ordered them to pay about £33,500 in costs. The lesson here is that the anti-graft battle should not be completely left in the hands of the ruling class. Nigerians should begin to hold their leaders to account. Waiting for political leaders to take the first step may never achieve the purpose.

Revenue loss to pipeline vandals

The recent report that Nigeria lost a whopping sum of N150.5 billion in revenue, in eight years, to pipeline vandalization is disturbing. According to the report by the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the country recorded 12,770 cases of pipeline vandalization between 2000 and 2007.

The report states that the highest number of vandalization was in 2006 with 3,674 cases in which the nation lost N36.646 billion. The heaviest loss of N42.102 billion occurred in 2005 from 2,237 cases. In 2000, a total of N10.121 billion was lost in 984 cases while in 2001, there were 461 cases resulting in the loss of N3.867 billion. In 2002, there was a loss of N7.971 billion from 516 cases. The 779 cases in 2003 led to the loss of N12.986 billion while the 895 cases of 2004 resulted in N19.66 billion loss. The sum of N17.24 billion was lost in 2007 to 3,224 cases of vandalization.

It is incontrovertible that the high incidence of pipeline vandalization in the country is largely due to political and socio-economic reasons. The fact that the preponderance of these disruptions occur in the Niger Delta region depicts the political nature of the problems.

Since the pipeline fire in Jesse, Delta State, on July 10, 2000 in which 250 people lost their lives; vandalization of pipelines has become a recurring national malaise in the country. For instance, on November 30, 2000, a ruptured pipeline in Ebute, near Lagos, killed not less than 60 people. Similarly, on June 19, 2003, oil theft led to the explosion of pipelines in a village, near Umuahia killing about 125 people.

There is no doubt that at the heart of all these brigandage and economic sabotage is the raging Niger Delta problem. That these vandalizations occurred between 2000-2007 is never coincidental. It tallies with the period the Niger Delta people became much aware of the neglect and degradation of the region despite its being the source of the national wealth.

Besides the Niger Delta agitation, there is an army of unemployed Nigerians who indulge in these nefarious activities to get even with the society that seemingly does not care for them. Other Nigerians that engage in pipeline vandalization do so because of greed and the urge to make quick money.
The nation cannot continue to lose this kind of revenue year after year to these unscrupulous Nigerians. The amount so far lost can go a long way in addressing some of the problems in the Niger Delta as well as those of the larger Nigerian society. We therefore urge the federal government to muster enough political will to tackle the festering restiveness in the region even if it means allocating 25 percent of the oil revenue to the oil-producing states.

Neglecting the Niger Delta problem or treating it with mere palliatives is like postponing the doomsday. Therefore the Umaru Yar’Adua administration should be proactive in addressing all the injustices of the federation for which the Niger Delta problem is on top of the list.

The government should act fast because hunger and unemployment are fast driving many Nigerians to acts of lawlessness and brigandage. All forms of social resentment and deviant behaviour arising out of our socio-economic inequities should be addressed to ensure the overall stability and wellbeing of the Nigerian society.

In addition, there is the need to enlighten the populace on the dangers of pipeline vandalization to the individual, the nation and the society. It is a fact that in the long run, nobody benefits actually from such economic sabotage. Therefore, all hands must be on deck to checkmate the incidence of pipeline vandalization in the country. The government should also evolve modern techniques of laying fuel pipelines that would make them secure from any intrusion while the civil defence and members of the community where pipeline pass through should be among those guarding them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Sad Day for Children

Let us rejoice with children, universally-recognized as the leaders of tomorrow. A world without children is a perishing world. Therefore we cannot afford to toy with the affairs of children.
This year’s Children’s Day Celebration is important for many reasons. In the last one year we have watched with alarm the increasing hostilities against children and destruction of the lives of many of them. Hundreds of thousands of children have been victims of mass expulsions across the different parts of the world. Many school pupils were buried alive in the latest earthquake that struck the mountainous Sichuan province of China .
In Nigeria several school pupils were burnt to death two weeks ago in the pipeline explosion which rocked the Ijegun community, in the Ikotun area of Lagos. Aside from natural disasters, countless number of children have been the victims of man’s inhumanity to man this year. A couple of months ago, a mother was caught in Oyo State selling her children to some European slave merchants. Not long ago a torture chamber for children was uncovered in Ibadan. Nigeria is one of the top countries in the world with the highest number of malnourished children. Children aged between five to 18 years, without basic education, endlessly loiter about Nigerian streets in search of living.
Moved by the plight of Nigerian children, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, broke down in tears two months ago. Just the other day, a seven - year old Okigwe toddler whose limbs were chopped off by his suspected relative has just returned to the country from Germany with artificial limbs, thanks to the humanitarianism of MTN Company.
Among the disturbing aspects of the physical and psychological abuse of children in Nigeria is child kidnapping. A few weeks ago some Port-Harcourt women and kids took to the streets in protest against
the frequent child kidnapping in Port-Harcourt and its environs. In a world completely torn apart by violence, brutal sex, war, hatred, political wrangling, and corruption, our children are also the victims of rape, infanticide, child labour, street hawking, child prostitution, cyber café pornography, condom-sex, modern slavery and all sorts of diseases.
This years’ Children’s Day Celebration affords us the opportunity therefore of putting in place the necessary machinery for the protection of our children. Adults should be made to understand that children have rights which should be protected. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989, signed and ratified by Nigeria remains the benchmark for assessing the rights of our children. The CRC states that every child, before and after birth, should have a right to life, right to basic education, right not to be coerced to engage in any unlawful sexual activity, right not to be abducted and sold into slavery, freedom of expression, right not to be used for forced labour, child trade, child trafficking etc. In Nigeria , the Child Act promotes the rights of children, but unfortunately only about 16 out of the 36 States of the federation have so far embraced the Act. Those who are objecting to the Act are doing so on nebulous cultural and religious grounds. Now is the time to reach a consensus on the legal frame work that will protect our children from exploitation, abuse and death.
Our children should be given the opportunity to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, socially in a healthy environment and in conditions of freedom and dignity. That is the only way we can hope to nurture the future leaders of tomorrow.

Children's Day

CHILDREN'S Day every year, is devoted to elaborate ceremonies organised by Federal and state governments ostensibly to draw attention to the plight, challenges and future of the Nigerian child but the Nigerian child remains trapped in dire straits. The average Nigerian child is still a victim of socio-cultural prejudices and practices, including child abuse, child labour, child trafficking and exploitation, and the failure of Federal and state governments to put in place, a Child Rights Framework to guarantee the humanity and the future of the Nigerian child.

In 1954, the United Nations had recommended in Resolution 836 IX that all countries should institute a Universal Children's Day to be observed "as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children and of activity promoting the welfare of the world's children". The UN also advised governments across the world to choose a particular day in any month in order to pay special attention to the needs of children. On November 20, 1959 the General Assembly of the UN adopted the Convention on Rights of the Child. Indeed, children represent the future of the world. A nation which produces children with fragmented lives automatically threatens its own future. In Nigeria, especially, where the population is predominantly young, the importance of children cannot be over-emphasised.

Unfortunately, Nigerian governments have merely paid lip service to the rights of the child. The effect is that Nigerian children face special circumstances. According to UNICEF and the Nigerian Education Minister Dr. Aja Nwachukwu, about 10 million Nigerian children of school age are out of school. Education as a tool for liberating the child is crucial. Currently, most Nigerian kids do not have access to free and compulsory education. The public school system has all but collapsed. Few middle class parents would send their children to public schools; the parents who still do, have no choice in the matter. The private sector which has attempted to fill the vacuum created by the shaky public school system has not lived up to expectations either. About two months ago, in Ibadan, Oyo State, the walls of a so-called private school collapsed and killed two pupils. Many private schools thrive on exorbitant school fees, without any guarantee of quality.

In addition, child labour is still in practice. Children are still openly exploited as hawkers and peddlers in most cities. In the South Eastern part of the country, male registration in primary and secondary schools has dropped significantly. In the North, the alimanjiri phenomenon, that is the presence of too many out-of-school children on the streets, a vibrant army of poverty and neglect, clearly illustrates the scope of the dilemma. In recent times, there had been talks about the passing of Child Rights Bills in the states but this was strongly resisted by the forces of conservatism.

The Nigerian child is a victim of a certain kind of "adult delinquency" - that is the failure of the older generation to plan for the country's future. Adults in positions of authority unwittingly ruin the lives of millions of kids through disastrous choices. The political class has not helped matters with its corrupt attitude to politics and governance. What message do adults send to kids in an environment such as this? Last year, a young man who was caught cheating in the Joint Matriculation Examinations (JME) glibly referred to the massive cheating that took place in the April 2007 general elections as an excuse. Inexorably, we send contradictory signals to children who are otherwise, ironically described as "the leaders of tomorrow."

The poverty level in the land in spite of the great natural and human resources with which the country is blessed impacts negatively on children. When a state government once introduced a once-a-day feeding programme in schools, school registration increased tremendously. Child labour is yet another problem. There is a growing population of Nigerian children on the streets living dangerously as traders, beggars or homeless street kids. And child trafficking has also grown in recent times.

As for the girl child, her predicament is even more precarious. In some parts of the country, under-age girls are given out in marriage to men old enough to be their grand- fathers. This often results in all kinds of health problems, the most notorious being Vesico-Vagina Fistulae (VVF). The rape of young girls is rampant. Son-preference even by educated families, remains the norm and this places the girl-child at risk.

The National Assembly passed the Child Rights Bill into law in 2003, but since then, the necessary adoption of the same law by the states has met with stiff resistance. In some of the states, the Child Rights Bill became controversial, because certain provisions in it relating to child marriage, discrimination against the female child, girl-child abuse and child labour were thought to be a violation of culture and tradition. But culture should be dynamic; it should not become an obstacle to human rights and societal development.

Child Rights legislation would be most helpful in the states but then, the law is not enough in itself. The challenge is in the area of implementation as borne out by the examples of states where the Child Rights Bill has since been passed, and yet this has not translated into any special achievements. The political will to protect the future, by investing in children and the youths, can make all the difference. Nigeria's capacity to compete in a world that is focusing on skills and ability would depend on the quality of its investment in its young

Agriculture and biofuel: Matters arising

TWO factors underlie the quest for biofuel energy production in Nigeria. First is the availability of vast arable agricultural land that is lying waste and largely uncultivated. The oil boom of the mid-70s upturned the country's economy from being predominantly agrarian to a crude oil based diseconomy. The result is the shift to oil as a major source of foreign revenue.

Consequently, the share of agricultural production in total exports reduced drastically from over 70 per cent in 1960 to less than two per cent today. How to rekindle interest in agriculture has for decades remained a daunting problem for government. The development of biofuel would inevitably boost agricultural production of the main cash crops needed for food as well as raw material in industrial biofuel production.

Second is the energy crisis that has overwhelmed the country due to the mismanagement of the crude oil revenue earnings and lack of appropriate energy policy framework. The collapse of the electricity sub-sector and the prohibitive cost of petrol, cooking gas and kerosene have forced the authorities to seek alternative sources of cheap energy. The result is the decision by government to give impetus to investment in biofuel production as one alternative source of energy.

Notwithstanding that the price of oil has soared steadily in the world market over the past three decades with Nigeria earning huge revenue now put at over $400 billion since 1960, the country's economy still remains among the least developed in the world.

For example, the country scored 0.470 (low) in the 2007 Human Development Index and was placed at the 158th position in the world. The poor state of affairs has been attributed to high-level corruption and mismanagement of the country's resources. This has impacted negatively on practically every sector of the economy. Nigeria suffers from chronic energy crisis that has left the country literally in darkness. Besides, with the abandonment of agriculture, the country has turned into a net importer of food while its vast arable land is lying waste.

Nigeria has great potential for agricultural development. Over 90 per cent of the country's land area is arable and could support a wide variety of agricultural products. It is estimated that 82 million hectares out of the country's total land area of 91 million hectares or 90 per cent are arable. Out of this, only 34 million hectares or 41 per cent are under cultivation mostly by peasant farmers. The remaining 48 million hectares of arable land or 59 per cent are lying waste and uncultivated. When it is considered that even the land under cultivation is underutilized, it becomes obvious that only a small proportion of Nigeria's land is actually cultivated.

Since the 1980s, the growth in agricultural output has been unimpressive. For example, in the first half of the 1980s when the country experienced stagnation, the growth in output averaged just about 0.5 per cent. Many farmers abandoned their farm plots in pursuit of other viable economic activities. Most of them took up white-collar jobs in the cities.

Shortly afterwards, there was a slight improvement in the fortunes of agriculture following some economic reforms introduced in 1986. These included improved producer prices, trade liberalization, dissolution of price-fixing marketing boards and the devaluation of the naira. These caused growth in the sector to rise slightly and averaged 3.8 per cent.

Many farmers returned to their abandoned fields and there was a burst of activity in cash crop production. The renewed zeal was however not sustained. Investment in cash crop production was little, instead, more food crop was produced which contributed to a fall in food importation from 19.3 per cent of total imports in 1983 to 7.1 per cent in 1991.

Although government has made effort through giving of incentives to encourage farmers to invest in agriculture and agro-based industries but this has not been successful. For example, the production of cocoa, which is the country's biggest non-oil foreign revenue earner has remained stagnant at around 160, 000 tons per year in 1995. In comparison, the annual average production of cocoa before the oil boom was more than 400, 000 tons. The same goes with the other cash crops.

The challenge before government is in revamping agricultural production and ensuring its sustainability. There is need to shift from subsistence farming to large-scale mechanized agriculture. It is on this basis that investment in large-scale cash crop production for biofuel energy would serve as catalyst in reviving agriculture.

Nigeria is currently facing a crippling energy crisis. The energy output is put at a mere 1400 megawatts (MW). This amount is generated from all power supply sources currently in operation. For the country to grow industrially, the energy generated should be in the neighbourhood of 30, 000 MW. There is a wide gap when this is put against what is currently produced. The country has a total installed power generating capacity of about 5, 000 MW comprising of both hydro and thermal power plants. There are eight main electricity-generating stations in the country.

Owing to official negligence and lack of maintenance, most of the generating power plants depreciated and could hardly generate a quarter of their installed capacity. Many packed up and went out of service.

Between 1999 and 2007, about N7.5 billion worth of contracts were awarded to rehabilitate the Egbin Power Plant, the biggest in the country. The same was done for the premier Kainji Dam.

Despite all these attempts, the power sector remains prostrate. It is alleged that the country spent N16 billion on the power sector in eight years under the Obasanjo administration without any change or improvement. Allegations of corruption, embezzlement and mismanagement of funds have trailed the award of the independent power contracts, which is now a subject of probe by the National Assembly.

The slow pace of action in the realization of the goal of boosting power supply through the independent power projects and the uncertainty surrounding the energy sector formed the basis for looking beyond hydropower and gas for alternative sources of energy. Biofuel is one energy alternative that is being explored.

Notwithstanding the criticisms against diverting agricultural land to biofuel crop production, government is in the process of developing a framework that would encourage the development of this form of cheap energy.

The argument that biofuel would put food out of the reach of the poor is out of the question in Nigeria. There is already hunger in the land without biofuel. While this may be true in some land hungry countries, this is not the case in Nigeria where 48 million hectares or nearly 60 per cent of the country's arable land is lying waste. Nigeria has enough land to grow food crops as well as industrial raw materials for biofuel production.

Under the post-independent agrarian economy, large tracts of land were held under the cultivation of export cash crops such as palm oil, cocoa, rubber, timber and cotton without reducing food crop production capacity.

Today, with the abandonment of agriculture, most of the tracts of land are lying waste. The land is neither used for the production of crops for food nor for industrial raw materials. It therefore makes more economic sense for the country to put the land into crop cultivation for biofule production.

Nigerians are desirous of having cheap energy supply irrespective of the source. There is no discontent from the people on the development of biofuel technology in the country. Government on its own is gradually bracing up with the idea of developing bioenergy if that will help to reduce the country's energy crisis.

In 2007, government approved and issued a gazette on a National Biofuel Policy Incentive (NBPI), which provides the enabling environment for investors to operate.

Furthermore, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has created a Renewable Energy Division (RED) to spearhead the development of biofuel industry in the country. RED has launched a biofuel initiative by inviting Expressions of Interest (EoI) to enlist join-venture investors into the industry.

Global Biofuels Limited, a private venture concern, has also initiated the construction of Nigeria's first biofuel refinery at Arigidi-Akoko in Ondo State. The refinery is expected to begin operation in 2009 with a daily production capacity of about 1,5 million litres of ethanol. No fewer than 58, 000 people would be employed in the project directly of indirectly. Other large-scale biofuel projects are being initiated in Jigawa and elsewhere. Undoubtedly, biofuel holds great prospects for agricultural development as well as mitigating the energy crisis in Nigeria.

Training the child

AS we mark this year's World Children's Day, it will be necessary for us to reflect on how well we have fared in our child upbringing responsibilities. The use of the pronoun "we" here does not mean parents alone, it is inclusive of every adult member of the society. Every adult member of the society has a responsibility towards the proper upbringing and development of every child within their neighbouhood one way or the other. If you are not the parent of a child you however stand in loco parents to any child within your environ especially when the biological parents are not available for one reason or the other. Thus you owe a duty of care and protection to that child. Though you may not be legally liable for any harm that may occur to that child should you refuse to give him/her adequate care and protection as an adult, however, you will be morally liable, at least to God - the ultimate parent of the child.

This reminds me of a popular biblical instruction: "train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it". The question is to whom is this instruction directed? It is very obvious that no name is mentioned, it is an open-ended instruction. Each time we quote this instruction, we point towards parents, but the truth is that we have always been wrong. The instruction was not given to parents alone, rather, it is an instruction given to the whole world. In other words, it means that the responsibility for the proper upbringing and development of any single child that comes into this world lies on the shoulders of the entire adult world. It means that the proper upbringing and development of any single child that comes into this world (whether you call him/her legitimate or illegitimate, able or disabled etc) lies on the shoulders of the immediate parents, the community, the state, the nation, the continent and the world at large. The parents therefore should make adequate provisions towards the protection of the human rights, development and enhancement of the welfare of their children, the community should do the same on the community level, the state, the nation, the continent and the world at large should equally do the same at their respective capacities. Of course, the world through the United Nations has been making commendable efforts towards ensuring the protection, development and enhancement of the rights and welfare of every child.

The provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child (CRC) are enough to give adequate protection to every child if embraced by member-states. Though almost all member states in the United Nations (except USA and Somalia) have ratified the CRC, yet it still suffers two major set backs - first, domestication and second, implementation. Most countries that have ratified it are having big problems with domesticating it as part of their internal legislation. A good example is Nigeria where the National Assembly enacted it into law as the Nigerian Child Rights Act 2003. Since 2003 till date only few states have deemed it fit to adopt it. It should be of note that Nigeria because of her federal system of government, no federal enactment can automatically be operative in the states of the federation unless such a state adopts it by enacting it into state law through the state's House of Assembly. Besides, states that have enacted the Child Rights Act into state law even with some modifications are still battling with the problem of implementation.

These laws are honoured more in the breach, and consequently the children continue to suffer abuse and exploitation in the hands of those who are supposed to protect their interest, those who are supposed to train them up in the way they should go. Now, in answering the question to whom is the instruction "train up a child in the way he should go..." the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child throws more light. Article 18 provides thus: 'State parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child, parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child...'

The provision is to the effect that parents (both parents, not only the father or the mother) who gave birth to a child have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of that child, e.g. through providing basic and immediate needs like shelter, food, clothing and education to the child. This responsibility can also be borne by legal guardians, especially when the child has no parents or the parents are not able to cater for the child perhaps as a result of physical or mental infirmity. That is why the instruction 'train up a child...' was open-ended, not addressed to any particular person, because any person might find himself/herself in a position to take up that responsibility for one reason or the other.

Note that the instruction did not say "train up your child", but 'a child' which means it does not have to be your biological child for you to take up the responsibility of protecting, providing and caring for him/her, you have a duty of love, care and protection over every child, whether black or white, able or disable, Christian or Muslim.

I said earlier that the state (country) in which a child was born also has responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child, thus the CRC rightly shared this responsibility between the parents and the state by providing in paragraph 2 of Article 18 thus: "For the purpose of guaranteeing and promoting the rights set forth in this convention, state parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities and shall ensure the development of institutions, facilities and services for the care of children".

In other words, while the primary responsibility lies on the shoulders of both parents, the secondary responsibility lies upon the shoulders of the state. And the secondary responsibility which lies upon the shoulders of the state (that is the government), is to appropriately assist the parents in performance of their primary responsibility by simply providing an enabling environment. In other words, though parents are to ensure their children are sheltered, well-fed, clothed and educated, the state is to ensure that shelter, food, clothing and education are not beyond the reach of the parents. The government must make shelter, food, clothing, education and medical care affordable to every parent or legal guardian, as the case may be.

The government should ensure that necessary facilities and institutions like recreational and health facilities, schools etc, that will assist parents in carrying out their primary responsibilities are put in place. And considering the importance of education to the development of man, Article 28 of the Child Rights Convention urges the state parties to pay more attention to the right of every child to education and where possible provide free education to every child.

All these provisions of this international convention, which Nigeria is a party to, have been domesticated through the Nigerian Child Rights Act (CRA) 2003. It is therefore necessary that states in Nigeria which have been magnanimous enough to adopt the CRA should not just stop there, but should do everything possible to ensure the provisions of the Act or laws, as the case may be, are well implemented. States, which are still undecided, should please make up their minds for the best interest of the children. Let us not sacrifice the future and best interest of Nigerian children on the altar of religion, politics, culture, and personal interests.

No doubt, the yardstick for measuring successful and responsible parents and governments is their ability to shoulder their respective responsibilities to the children efficiently. Parents, legal guardians, communities or governments that fail in their respective duties and obligations to the children, have not only failed the future of the nation, the continent and the world at large, but have also failed God, who entrusted these children into their hands.

Now it is time to seek a newer world (2)

THIS is why today the dollar is gradually taking a downward slide, stocks are crashing, mortgages are collapsing, consumers no longer flood the shops. The dream is dying. New economic powers are emerging. China, India and the like which were once turned to for cheap labour to meet consumer demand in America have become strengthened by grit and the sheer demands placed on them. Today America owes China alone over a trillion dollars in support of its citizens' insatiable consumption of Chinese goods. But now China, India and other Asian countries having been taught how to produce massively, and since America is unable to buy everything again from them, are looking for new markets. They are turning to Africa. And where is Africa in all these?

Africa is a land of many contrasts. To many, whenever mention is made of Africa the picture that comes to mind is that of that Dark Continent in the back recesses of the world. To some extent this is justifiable. We cannot lay all the blame on foreigners. A race that fails to keep with the universal pace of development must place the main fault at its door.

The foreign slave merchants of old had African chiefs and traders as their collaborators. Today's economic hit-men from America and elsewhere had corrupt and oppressive regimes to thank for the wholesale adoption of their failed economic packages. We cannot say the same however of the average African in the street. Though he may not have been to school, he is schooled in the dictates of his heart. Deep within he could sense the minutest vibrations of that which rings true. He knows what is right and just and in his affairs with others he strives to do the right thing. He is not tainted by the greed of materialism. Such was my experience when as the first lady of Ondo State in South West Nigeria in the 1980s I was privileged to work with the local women.

Under the project called Better Life for Rural Women, the inner values of these simple women shone like a thousand stars. A trader would leave her goods and the equivalent amount of the unit price of the goods besides her wares if she had to go away to attend to other things. Let her be away from the market all day, in the evening she would find there, her remaining goods and the exact amount of goods bought by passers-by. It would not cross the mind of any one to take advantage of her absence from her stall. Even one who needed two tubers of yam to feed his family but had enough money for only one, would not take another tuber in the absence of the seller. People cherish their name, their dignity and the need to ensure justice at all times than anything else.

This trait I must say cuts across most communities in Africa. In the course of my thirty five years in public life, I have traversed the length and breath of Africa and worked especially among the women and the children and I bear testimony to how people guard their self-respect and reputation, how they strive to be fair and just in their dealings and how this have helped to sustain associations and ventures. Never mind the new picture that some Africans have notoriously cut for our Continent.

It will not be fair if I do not acknowledge the positive influences here of Europe and Europeans especially on us in Africa. The coming of the whites has no doubt opened up Africa to a remarkable level of modern development. Now we have education, electricity, pipe-borne water, modern roads, technology, etc. We owe it to the Europeans that cures have been found today to most of the diseases known to devastate Africa centuries ago. Businesses have also helped to develop our resources to levels once unimagined.

But together we can do more and better in a fair and just manner. Events happening worldwide show that things are changing fast and we must change if we wish to survive. Some years ago, some countries were giving their farmers subsidies so they would not grow more than a certain amount of food in order to sell at high prices and maintain their global competitive edge. Today, there is increasing food shortage across the globe. Scientific inventions to help grains yield more are failing. Of what use is human advancement in one part of the globe if it can not be employed in another part of the world?

It is time to reach out to one another in governments and businesses and salvage the situation. We need each other. We have done it together before. It was our collective effort that helped to end the slave trade, to put an end to colonialism and apartheid. We can do it again if Europe would see Africa as an authentic partner in the new deal.

A cheerless Children’s Day

Today, Nigeria celebrates her children under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly – recommended Children’s Day, which is a day set aside, since 1954, to celebrate children and draw attention to their problems. The celebration, sadly, meets the Nigerian child in dire straits.

From health, to education, to life expectancy, damning statistics regularly paint unflattering pictures of the terrible conditions under which Nigerian children are nurtured.
At different fora in all parts of the country today, government officials will make speeches about the state of the Nigerian child and promise them and their parents a better deal, as has been the routine over the years, yet the condition of the Nigerian child remains unchanged.

Everywhere in the country, the pitiable state of children in Nigeria is evident. In the Northern part of the country, hapless student-beggars, almajiris, roam the landscape. In Lagos and other urban centres of the country, children are often to be found in markets and in the streets, engaged in trading and other strenuous activities that are well beyond their tender frames.

They have been reportedly discovered to be working in cement and stone factories, some have been discovered in brothels, sleeping with men in exchange for money that goes to their “benefactors”, while thousands are engaged as househelps and in other forms of forced labour on farms, factories and in private homes. Children are raped, maltreated and sold at the whims and caprices of depraved adults.

They are largely unprotected by the state and their rights to life, basic education and the rights not to be used for forced labour, child trade, child trafficking etc, as provided for under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989, are routinely flagrantly flouted. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child that “mankind owes the child the best it has to give” has little meaning in the country. The exploitation and maltreatment of children in Nigeria have not escaped the attention of international agencies and the rest of the world.

Statistics continually released by both international and local agencies regularly draw attention to the dismal state of the Nigerian child. A few of these will suffice. The most recent, released within the last fortnight, by the United States-based global humanitarian organization, Save the Children, said one million children, a tenth of the global child mortality figure, die in Nigeria, every year.

Nigeria was rated as the country with the second highest number of children who were not getting access to adequate basic health care, with 16 million deprived of basic medicare. Other statistics say that 40 per cent of Nigerian children of school age are out of school. Other disheartening statistics say Nigerian children are among the most under-nourished in the world while they continue to fall victim to easily preventable diseases, while the nation has been adjudged the last bastion of polio in the world, by international health agencies.

Efforts to improve the condition of the Nigerian child have been met with stiff resistance in many states, in the country. Five years after the signing of Child Rights Act 2003, which is the most comprehensive legislation in respect of child rights in Nigeria, less than half of the states in the federation have passed the Act into law in their domain, because of religious and cultural excuses.
Even the existing child protection laws, like the Children and Young Persons (Street Trading) Law, are hardly enforced.

The state of the Nigerian child remains so deplorable that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Dimeji Bankole, wept openly during a visit, earlier in the year, to the House by children to intimate the legislators with their problems, especially that of rape and violence..
This deplorable state of affairs should not be allowed to continue.

On this occasion of Children’s Day, we urge all state governments to address the monumental injustice to Nigerian children by signing the Child Rights Act into law and enforce its provisions. The government, at all levels, should also make ample provision for the healthcare and education of these young ones who are the future of the nation.
We congratulate Nigerian children on this their special day. It is our hope that celebrations of this day will hold out more to cheer in the coming years.

EFCC should let Kalu be

Indeed, the more you fight an Israelite, the more victorious and rugged he becomes. The more you cut down an Israelite, the more he sprouts and blossoms. The more you curse an Israelite, the more success he enjoys because an Israelite is blessed by the Most High God and cannot be cursed. An Israelite is defended by God Almighty to a point that no arsenal employed against him prospers.

By the grace of God, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu enjoys those heavenly privileges. He could be likened to a tree planted by the riverside that flourishes in every situation.
Kalu is a patriotic and with his group of companies scattered all over the country, he becomes one of the biggest Nigerian employers of labour of our time, thereby reducing crime rate and tension in the country. He works daily for a sustainable development and growth of our economy. He is an epitome of peace. Therefore, it is difficult to fathom why any body or group of persons should think of doing him evil not to talk of actualizing.

It is pertinent to note that Kalu was a successful businessman before he got the mandate of his people to serve them as governor. During this period, he did not disappoint his people. Rather, he performed beyond expectation; the record of his great achievements is there for every one to see. He left Abia State hundred times better than he met it. There was uncommon atmosphere of peace in Abia State and its environs throughout his rule.

The few individuals that are having disparaging views of his regime are those that are feeling disappointed for having not served in his government and those he dispensed with their services due to unscrupulous behaviour. It was not feasible that every body must serve in his government. So, for any body to say he siphoned or stole the people’s fund is disgustingly malicious.

In view of the foregoing, I want to disagree with the EFCC conesning him. It is also unfortunate that the virtuous wife and blessed children of Kalu should be declared fugitives. What are their offences? That they should be declared fugitive is an over statement and an abuse on Abia the illustrious son whom God uses to put quality foods on the tables of many Nigerians.

They did not escape; the family has been living abroad ever before the rift between EFCC and their father. But, how can the father be put in jail for an indictment that is absolutely false, which he has already refuted?

Before well meaning Nigerians, EFCC’s obnoxious request and desire against Kalu and his happy family portray EFCC as a paid witch-hunter, which makes the commission grossly unserious in all its ramifications. But it will not achieve its purpose.

The exit of a titan

The fiery and erstwhile leader of the Pan-Yoruba culture association Afenifere is gone. Pa Adesanya, perhaps more than anybody alive today in political scene of Nigeria, is the one that made it possible for democracy to see the light of day toad through his activities as Afenifere and NADECO chieftain and leader.

The case of the famous Sergeant Rogers and the shooting of Papa’s car without a cartridge of the gun entering his car when Papa’s life was to be eliminated by Abacha’s Junta are very fresh. Along with the likes of Rtd. Lit. General Alani Akinrinade, Late Bola Ige, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Segun Osoba, Lam Adesina, Olu Falae, Senator Okuronmu and Fasanmi and other human rights activists across the country, the despotic rule of Sanni Abacha was brought to a standstill.

Pa Adesanya is an epitome of courage and political sagacity. He was one of the few remaining Aworist that was committed to Awoism. We will not forget to mention that Adesanya was one of those charged with treasonable felony during the first republic including the late sage – Obafemi Awolowo.

Adesanya was fulfilled in life and death. While alive, he was a successful lawyer, a distinguished senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a team player and one who used the umbrella of the Afenifere to put forward the need to restructure Nigeria under federalism with a weaker centre and strong component states.

Like his principal, Obafemi Awolowo, he believed that a Yoruba person cannot be a good Nigeria without being a committed Yoruba man. The political community to which he belonged, the remaining Afenifere and the entire Nigeria will for ever remember this man for a long time.


As the nation joins the rest of the world to mark another International Children’s Day today, it is imperative to note that over the years, the plight of the Nigerian child has continued to worsen. Beyond the public holiday and a few speeches that some public officials give on May 27 every year, there seems to be no concrete plan to change the ill fortune of the Nigerian child.

A report released recently by the United States-based organisation, Save the Children, indicate that about one million children die yearly in Nigeria. This represents about 10 per cent of the number of child-deaths globally. According to the ranking, Nigeria comes second only to India as the country with the highest number of children who lack access to adequate basic health care. In figures, this equates to about 16 million suffering children.

The situation is compounded by mass unemployment and poverty. About 90 per cent of the people live on less than $2 a day. Many families are so poor that they cannot afford balanced diets that can boost the immune system of their growing children. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 65 per cent of Nigerians have insufficient access to the amount and variety of food that make for a healthy and productive life. The same ministry says 40 per cent of Nigerian children under five have stunted growth. It is estimated that 25 per cent of them die before the age of five.

Those who are lucky to escape hunger and food insecurity may not be too lucky to escape kidnappers, rapists and ritualists. And to show that the nation is not empowering its children for the new knowledge-driven world order, 45 per cent of school-age children are out of school. Yet, the Universal Basic Education programme was launched in 2000 with the aim of giving free and compulsory education to every child. Those out of school are hawking on the streets or engaged in other forms of child labour.

The worsening plight of the Nigerian child is largely attributable to poor governance and high birth rate, especially among the poor. In many parts of the world, children are given free medical treatment. In Nigeria, this is not the case. Even some states that claim to offer free treatment, patients stay for long hours unattended to. The government should be alive to its responsibilities since health is not a sector that can be solely handled by the private sector.

Local governments in particular have a greater responsibility in this regard. Being the government that is closer to the people, councils should go beyond paying salaries and sharing allocations. They should put in place dispensaries, health centres, and train health technologists to manage them. These facilities were there in the past.

All tiers of government should also go back to adequate training of health workers. The current situation where nursing schools, for instance, are being neglected does not augur well for the society. The government should also embark on enlightenment campaigns on birth control, first aid and other preventive health issues. This nation can afford one free meal per day for every school child if official graft is tamed.

On their parts, parents should limit themselves to the number of children they can adequately cater for. They should seek the assistance of medical personnel when their children fall sick. They should take immunisation of their children seriously as some diseases that have killed Nigerian children could have been prevented with simple immunisation. They should also keep their environments clean because most of the diseases that afflict children are as a result of poor hygiene. Sanitary inspectors should be engaged to counsel Nigerians on the need to always maintain a clean environment.

Beyond the government, churches, mosques and other non-governmental bodies should build health care centres to help in tackling some preventable diseases among children. Some have done it already, but there is need to do more. A nation that neglects the education and welfare of its children has no future.

Ending Varsity Admission Crisis

MANY of the more than one million candidates who sat for the University Matriculation Examination, UME , do not know only 200,000 of them would get admission. This number includes those who would press their influences to be in the nation’s universities.

The others would have no alternative than to wait until the next year or patronise those who make a living from peddling illegal admissions. Their quota is sometimes from the 200,000 places that all the universities in Nigeria can offer. In other places, a single university can absorb more than 500,000 students.

Shortage of university places is growing. Each year, more than two million new candidates join the queue to enter the universities. Factors like extraneous pressures on the admission process hamper their success rate.

Governor Amaechi Rotimi of Rivers State alluded to these pressures when he told officials of the state-owned university to stick to admission figures, in line with existing facilities, instead of succumbing to pressures from high office holders. He knows that his order would be observed only in breach.

The shortages create good businesses for admission officers and their collaborators, who have perfected schemes that result in universities admitting students beyond their facilities. Nobody is sure of the number of students in our universities as the National Universities Commission, NUC has lost the battle for compliance with the admission quotas it assigns each university.

Professor Julius Okojie, a former Vice Chancellor, now the Executive Secretary of the NUC, recently accused universities of running prosperous admissions rackets. The truth is that wherever there are shortages, illegal businesses prosper around them. Nigerians value university education enough to do everything to get places for their wards. Who is to blame?

For Okojie it is the candidates and their parents. “Everybody wants to go to the university,” Okojie says, as if it is a crime. He said if the candidates had taken places in polytechnics, colleges of education, and other higher institutions, the admission crises in the universities would not exist.

Government created this problem long ago. The discrimination against the products of institutions, other than universities, is responsible for students insisting on university education. Graduates of these institutions cannot get certain jobs. Government agencies that manage to employ them place promotion limits on their path, no matter how good they are on the job.

University education is almost the only qualification for jobs in some sectors of the economy. Most organisations in the private sector have followed governments’ lip service about ending the discrimination. When they advertise vacancies, they accept only university graduates.

The loss is not just to the candidates and their parents. The country is losing its investments in these higher institutions, as well as creating gaps in its technological development.

Solutions to these situations lie in realising that a society’s growth has to be total, with various strata making different contributions. Where it fails to do this, settings like the university admission crisis become recurring problems.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Now it is time to seek a newer world

AFRICA was never considered to be a partner, let alone an authentic one in the processes that led to the formulation and implementation of the idea of a global village. And it is not the first time. It is not the first time that decisions that concerned Africa, decisions that would shake and change Africa would be taken without asking for Africa's contributions or consent.

Many would recollect the sad story of the obnoxious Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the ugly details of which do not bear mentioning here. For those who may not be familiar with this period, I suggest an excursion to the coastal settlements of West Africa for example. Some of the painful chains of that repugnant act still hang today like a nightmare, nearly one hundred and fifty years after, on an island off the city of Dakar in Senegal, at Elmina Castle in Ghana and at 'the point of no return' in Badagry, near Lagos, Nigeria.

Most of us must wonder today how it was possible for some people to decide to take over for their own use and for the benefit of their families, countries and continent, the resources, the treasures and even the rights of other people, other families, other countries and continent. Today we must shudder at the fact that many of these men returned from the colonies with fat loot as heroes only to be honoured at home with knighthoods and national awards. In Africa, we have in our colonial history, partly due to this perverse way of honouring people, such figures like Lord Lugard, Sir Macpherson, Sir Richards and Lord Kitchener.

Of General Kitchener in particular, it is on record that he never considered himself as a foreigner in Africa. Rather he saw the entire land of Africa as belonging to him and to his masters in the Home Office. After all, was the entire British Empire not one vast kingdom where the sun never set? In the line of duty of expanding the empire, Kitchener led the British forces against a small ragtag army of Sudanese natives with little or no arms but pride in their hearts to defend their motherland against the intruder. When the natives had been routed and Mahmoud Wad Ahmed, the leader of the resistance was brought in shackles to Kitchener after his defeat at the battle of Atbara, Kitchener said to him: "Why have you come among my people to commit arson and plunder?" It was the intruder who asked the man whose land it was that question and the owner of the land, the man whose land it was, bowed down his head and said nothing.

A similar scenario was graphically made to play out for nearly a century in South Africa until the whole world rose against apartheid. Today, the colonial masters are as good as gone. I mean those military, gun-totting invaders are gone. But we have new masters who are no different; although they carry no guns, they are decked only in suits and wield nothing more lethal than the pen, they are all over Africa carrying out the same expansionist mission. Only these days they bear different nomenclature and carry their assignment in the new coded language of enslavement. Many of these economic hit-men you would find in the corridors of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, London Club, the Paris Club and the huge multinational corporations.

These men carry in their suitcases economic packages that were designed not to work anywhere under the sun. They persuade countries to undertake huge projects like power generation, road construction, refineries and encourage African countries to borrow money from foreign institutions to finance these projects: Loans that several generations of Africans will never be able to pay back. Or how else would you envisage the new proposed power project in the Congo? It is reputed to be the biggest power project ever in the world and would cost some 80 billion dollars. Long before the project is completed, the money borrowed for the project would have been repatriated to the United States through project consultants and the rest. How, I ask you, will an impoverished and war-ravaged country like the Congo and its equally poor neighbours ever be able to pay for this? This is all part of the new world order; an order which suits only a few.

Eastern African countries like Kenya and Ethiopia are the largest growers of tea. They sell the raw leaves at peanuts to the foreign companies who sell the refined tea to these peasants at simply unaffordable prices. Anyone who was in Zimbabwe in the early 1980s after her independence would be alarmed at how a few white farmers controlled about 80 per cent of its arable land. Today, the country has the highest inflation rate in the world. The current state of implosion was always a matter of time, for all along Zimbabwe sat on a keg of gunpowder and no one was willing to do anything to defuse it. In West Africa, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria are the largest producers of cocoa. Yet it costs more to buy a pack of cocoa beverage there than in Europe.

Nigeria is one of the world's producers of crude oil. We shall not speak here of the politics of petroleum pricing. But I invite you to the Niger Delta where gas flaring is the norm. Gas is a by-product of petroleum. But rather than trap the gas and sell it for home use, the gas is burnt off under extremely intense heat. The consequence of this is that villages which used to know peace and live in the calming ambience of nature in the creeks, are now made to work in the day and sleep at night under the glare of this furnace emitting out flame and heat of hundreds of thousands degrees Farhenheit. When they experience oil spillage, their rivers are polluted and marine life is sorely afflicted. Hardly could they continue any longer with their traditional fish farming. Now people the world over still wonder when the restiveness in the Niger Delta would end.

Some years ago, as part of the globalization policy, the American government came up with the AGOA Act. This is a legislation that encourages the growth and exportation of certain goods from Africa to America. Any other product even if it was cheaper to produce and fetched more money for the farmer was not to enjoy the same tax relief as products that came under this Act. The idea of globalization where countries abroad are encouraged to produce at low cost and export to America to feed the ever-growing consumer demand just cannot work for ever.

Right from the start there is imbalance in the policy. And wherever there is imbalance will always come a fall. A scale heavily weighted on one side will tip over. It is a law of life. History is replete with such instances. It is surprising that till now people never take note that the side that takes all the goodies, the heavier side, is always the first to tilt over. Where is Babylon and its kings? Where is the Roman Empire, where are its Caesars? Where is the Soviet Union of the 15 republics?

Their histories tell us that anything in life built on imbalance cannot last. The excesses of the present globalization are beginning to have dire consequences worldwide. Greed for other people's resources is unhealthy. Greed, I said, not need. Where there is a genuine need for what a country does not possess and it approaches another country for this in mutual respect in a give-and-take, in a win-and-win manner, this is right. But so many things constitute man's wants and not necessarily his needs. Over time our wants have become insatiable that we seem we cannot do without them. Therein, lies a great danger. 'Appetite, a universal wolf, which perforce must eat itself up' is how William Shakespeare described it.

The new EFCC chairman

THE other day, the Federal Government announced the appointment of Mrs. Farida Waziri as acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in succession to Malam Nuhu Ribadu, who was sent on a controversial one-year course of study at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, in Plateau State. The appointment took effect from Thursday, May 15, 2008. Subject to her confirmation by the Senate, Mrs. Waziri will take over from Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, who took over from Malam Nuhu Ribadu as acting chairman.

Mrs. Waziri comes with seemingly impressive credentials. She is a retired police officer and a lawyer, with LLB and LLM degrees from the University of Lagos, a BL from the Nigerian Law School and a M.Sc degree in Strategic Studies from the University of Ibadan. She is, for good measure, a graduate of the Nigeria War College, Abuja. Mrs. Waziri also attended various professional and administrative courses at home and abroad. She is also the author of a book on Advance Fee Fraud, the subject of her dissertation at the War College, Abuja.

Born on July 7, 1946, Mrs. Waziri had worked in the defunct highly dreaded National Security Organisation (NSO), now re-christened State Security Service (SSS). In the course of her career, she also served in the Force CID Unit and in the "E" Department, which is in charge of police training and police colleges nationwide. From the point of view of her qualifications and cognate experience, including, in the main, the statutory provisions for the appointment of chairman for the EFCC, Mrs. Waziri appears to be a qualified candidate for the daunting job of chairman of the anti-graft commission. The EFCC Act, 2004 requires that the appointment by the President of chairman and member of the EFCC be confirmed by the upper chamber of the National Assembly, the Senate, which is now unhappy with the fact that the Presidency has presented before it for confirmation, not a chairman, but an acting chairman, a title that is unknown to the EFCC Act 2004. Additionally, the Senate is reportedly miffed by the fact that Mrs. Waziri may have assumed office before her confirmation, a situation the lawmakers regard as a breach of due process. The lawmakers are in order to insist on due process. If Mrs. Waziri is found acceptable by the National Assembly, she will be saddled with an onerous responsibility, namely, stemming the lethal tide of corruption in the Nigerian nation-state.

The first time Nigerians witnessed some seriousness in the war against corruption was when Malam Nuhu Ribadu became chairman of the EFCC. Malam Ribadu was easily the most daring knight in the war against corruption, which he waged with relentless single-mindedness. If confirmed as chairman of the EFCC, Mrs. Waziri would be required not only to tread in the footsteps of Malam Ribadu but improve on his performance. She would be required to sustain the spirit of fearlessness with which Ribadu is associated. Mrs. Waziri should understand that the nation has lofty expectations of the anti-corruption institutions, particularly of the EFCC, which the public now has cause to believe is either moribund or, at least, has seen better days.

Today, Nigeria continues to occupy a top stratum in the corruption scale of Transparency International as economic and financial filthiness and other forms of under-the-counter dealings and perfidious manoeuvres have become chronic cankerworms in the body politic. It is public knowledge that the greatest obstacle to socio-economic development and progress in Nigeria today is rancid corruption among our civil and public servants, both elected and selected alike.

Accordingly, Nigerians do not expect Ribadu's successor to fall below the high standard set by him. Indeed, it is expected that Ribadu's successor should steer clear of the foibles and shortcomings, such as selective justice and disrespect for the rule of law and due process of which the EFCC had been accused. If her appointment is confirmed by the Senate, Mrs. Waziri must not distinguish between edible and sacred cows. All corrupt people, patricians and plebeians alike, should be treated on a plateau of mutual equality. She should avoid doing the right thing in the wrong way. The EFCC could obey the rule of law and due process and still be effective. She should ensure thorough investigations and effective and fearless prosecutions, which could lead to discharge and acquittal or to condign penalties, to serve as a deterrent to other unethical manipulators in the land.

In this regard, all cases already investigated or being investigated by the EFCC must be pursued with vigour. Prosecution of all former public officers facing trial for corruption, including ex-governors must continue faithfully.

If and when she resumes as EFCC Chairman, Mrs. Waziri must fight the temptation to carry out wholesale reorganisation of the commission. That must not be her priority. If anything the experience acquired by operatives of the EFCC within its short life span, must be harnessed and channelled towards a more vigorous anti-corruption effort. This is why it would appear to be precipitate for the police authorities to transfer the former Acting Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Lamorde, to Ningi as Police Area Commander when his services are most needed to strengthen the new chairman.

Mrs. Waziri should shun politics and being led by the nose by any political party or group of politicians. Her previous association with any of them must not impair her duties to the nation. Mrs. Waziri should now show Nigerians how truly disciplined and averse to fraud and malfeasance she is. She must prove early to Nigerians that she is the mistress of her own ship.